The masks :


     For the Dogon, the village space guarantees order and security. On the other hand, the ambivalence of the bush is notorious. It can be both dangerous and beneficial. It is the world of the invisible. There are all types of evil spirits roaming about. But the bush is also a source of life where food and medicinal plants abound. Wild animals have gifts for clairvoyance. When a Dogon travels and sleeps in the bush, his totem-animal (Ba-Binu - see page 21) will look after him.

     It is on the occasion of a Dama that new masks are carved. The fibres for the costumes are prepaired and painted in the bush. Whereas the wooden headpieces may be carved, hidden from the sight of others, in the village. To attain their full magical powers, they are to be submitted to various rituals. In Sangha, the Wala Banga is to make a sacrifice for all masks on the mask altar (Wala). The owners of the masks do not assist. Each individual, however, will make sacrifices on his private altar in order to seek protection against sorcery. In some other villages, mask owners may want to seek protection through the intervention of mask dignitaries at Yougo Dogorou.

     Today mask carving outside a ritual context has become frequent. The sale of such objects to tourists is no problem at all. But the sale of a mask that is still "active" in a ritual sense must be done with utmost care and requires ritual precautions.


     Dogon myths as related by Marcel Griaule give a good idea as to the significance of certain masks :

     Mask Satimbe : This mask represents the woman who, in mythical times, captured the old Albarga and stole the masks from the Andumbulu ( supernatural beings). One day in the bush she surprised them dancing. They fled and left behind their masks and costumes made of red fibres. She disguised herself with it and returned to where she came from. The men from her village took it all away from her (Albarga included) and hid everything in a cave, for example, the sacred cave of Albarga at Yougo Dogorou (see pages 13 & 37).

sangha : satimbe masks
sangha : satimbe masks
sangha : satimbe masks

     According to certain traditions the name of the lady is Yayeme and she came originally from the village of Yendouma. Following these events, the woman who discovered the masks was nominated "Ya Sigine" (the sister of the masks). Today the "Ya Sigine" priestess is the only woman who plays an active role during masked rituals. She is also the sole woman for whom masked dances will be performed at her funeral. Women are completely excluded from all mask-related rituals. During masked dances, they watch on from a fair distance.